Independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook walked into what might be considered the lion's den for tax protesters Tuesday night.
But he still came away with what he considered a small victory.Throughout the campaign fight over tax limitation, educators and proponents of the initiatives have been at odds. But in making a strong plea to hear both sides of the issue, Cook persuaded the Salt Lake Board of Education to postpone its adoption of a resolution that condemns the tax-limitation measures as "highly detrimental to the Salt Lake City School District."
The seven board members agreed to meet with Cook and other interested individuals, including gubernatorial candidates and tax-limitation opponents, in a special study session Sept. 15. The board tabled consideration of the resolution until its Sept. 20 meeting.
"I have to admit I'm surprised," Cook said after the meeting. "But I think this is a very open school board and it reflects the tradition of teachers who are willing to look at both sides of an issue."
Cook said he won't wager that the board will back off from its opposition, but he thinks he'll have scored another victory if he can persuade the board to modify its stand and set some ground rules on how the tax-limitations can be discussed in the schools.
Calling the Salt Lake School District the state's flagship district, he said if standards for debate of the propositions can be established in the Salt Lake School District, then maybe other districts will follow suit.
The candidate had not requested to speak at the school board meeting. But when the board began discussion of its resolution, Cook asked for time to present his argument. The board suspended its rules to allow him to speak.
He praised the board for its strong stand that discussion about the tax-limitation measures in the school district should involve adults only.
He said he is not anti-education, despite what some might think. His campaign tries to blend the needs of education with the need to get lower tax rates so Utah can attract businesses to boost the economy, Cook said.
Cook argued that adoption of the board's resolution was premature because the board hadn't heard any supporters of the tax-limitation measures nor were board members informed about any proposals that could adjust the loopholes in the initiative limiting property taxes.
Business administrator Gary Harmer told Cook that the school district's projected $14.5 million loss out of an $85 million budget under the tax-limitation measures is "frightening."
"I hate to use this overused word - devastating - but that's what they would be to us," Harmer said of the tax-limitation measures.
Cook said he doesn't necessarily agree with the amount of projected loss in revenue that has been bandied about by tax opponents. He also said savings, in the Salt Lake and other school districts, could be realized by competitive bidding for transportation and school lunches, and by reduction in administration.
The seven board members agreed to listen to Cook in more detail, saying it was only fair to hear to both sides. But they insisted that others with different viewpoints also be invited to participate.